General Crime

* Life In Prison Terms For Gang-Related Witness Kidnapping and Murder

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Four Asian Boyz gang members were sentenced to life in prison this morning for the 2008 retaliatory kidnapping and murder of a Santa Rosa man whose brother testified against members of the gang four months earlier. Quentin Russell, 29, David Prak, 23, and Sarith Prak, 26, were sentenced to life without parole for the murder of Vutha Au, 24, during a kidnapping on March 2, 2008 at Blind Beach on the Sonoma Coast. Preston Khaoone, 26, was sentenced to life without parole for intentional killing in furtherance of a street gang.

All four defendants also were sentenced to a consecutive 25-years-to-life term for personal discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury and a 2-year consecutive term for participating in a street gang. They were convicted by two separate juries on June 28. The jury that convicted Khaoone, the alleged ringleader, found Russell was the defendant who shot Au nine times in a parking lot at the beach.

The jury that convicted the other three defendants made no finding regarding who shot Au, but they agreed all four defendants acted with reckless disregard for human life, Deputy District Attorney Traci Carrillo said. Two other defendants, Tyrone Tay and Boonlak Chanpheng, both 20, pleaded guilty to the gang-related kidnapping and were sentenced to 18 and 15 years in prison respectively.

Vutha Au’s brother Terry Au, now 26, was kidnapped and assaulted in October 2007. Vutha testified against the three defendants in that kidnapping, including Preston Khaoone’s two brothers, at a preliminary hearing in November 2007. Vutha, Terry and their family were placed in a witness protection program and left the Santa Rosa area. Vutha, however, returned to Santa Rosa shortly before his murder in March 2, 2008.

The defendants arranged Vutha’s abduction through text messages and drove him to the Sonoma Coast where he was killed in retaliation for his testimony at the 2007 preliminary hearing, Carrillo said. During the emotional hour-long sentencing in Sonoma County Superior Court this morning, Rudy Kham and Lean Sin, Vutha’s and Terry’s divorced father and mother, told Judge Ken Gnoss how the nightmare of losing one son to witness protection and another to murder affected their family.

Kham said his family escaped the “killing fields” in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 and moved to Thailand, then to America, only to have another horror find them. “I brought my family here for a better life and future. I feel my life is over. I gave up everything in my dream,” he said. Kham said he hoped the sentencing of his son’s killers would bring some peace to the family. Lean Sin recalled Vutha as a generous son and a hard worker who used his first paycheck to buy gifts for his family. “I don’t understand why an innocent person like Vutha had to be killed,” she said. She said she and Kham lost every dream they ever had.

With one son dead and the other living far from her, Sin said she has no family or friends to talk to. “My life is full of pain. I am alone,” she said. “I miss Vutha and worry about Terry. He is very scared. I tell him every day on the phone to look behind him and be safe,” she said. Terry Au told Judge Gnoss Vutha was “the best big brother I could ask for.” He said he lives every day in fear of being killed. “I have closed myself off from the world since Vutha died,” he said. “You are the beat of my heart and the soul of my body. I will always love you,” he said of his brother.

Carrillo told the court she hoped the sentencing would bring some sense of peace to Au’s family and dissuade others from the gang life. David Prak addressed Au’s family in their native tongue, and Russell apologized to his mother and to the Au family, but he also took the opportunity to defended gang life. “It’s all I know. You say it’s bad but it’s my life. You don’t understand. Gang life is not a choice or decision. It’s part of you,” Russell said.

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